October 14, 2014 at 8:00 AM
For the next five weeks, SoxProspects.com will count down its end-of-season top 40 prospects, recapping their seasons and looking at what's ahead for them in 2015. Note, of course, that we will be using the site's official end-of-season rankings, meaning that any changes after September 26 will not be reflected in the countdown. You can find all of the entries in this year's series here.
#38: Cody Kukuk, SP
2014 Teams: Salem Red Sox, Greenville Drive
Final Stats: 102 2/3 IP, 7-7, 4.47 ERA, 89 H, 59 R/51 ER, 83 BB, 116 K, 1.68 WHIP
Season in Review: After showing both the ability to miss bats and issues throwing strikes in 2013, Kukuk began 2014 back in Greenville after logging 107 innings with the Drive the previous season. The tall left-hander made five starts with the Drive, allowing only five runs over 24 innings pitched before getting the call-up to Salem at the beginning of May. The Carolina League proved a tougher test for Kukuk, whose control problems re-emerged and helped contribute to a tough stretch in his first six weeks with Salem, as he walked 37 batters and allowed 41 hits in 35 2/3 innings over 10 starts. The arrival of July saw improved performances from the 21-year-old, with Kukuk surrendering only six earned runs over six starts that month. He struck out 36 batters and walked 15 in 26 1/3 innings, earning SoxProspects.com’s Pitcher of the Month award. However, including his last start of July, Kukuk's control issues re-emerged in his last five starts, as he allowed 25 free passes in 20 innings. His final line in Salem saw him post 5.26 ERA and 1.81 WHIP in 78 2/3 innings. Despite strong strikeout numbers, his biggest issue remains his propensity to give up the free pass, as he posted an 8.1 walks-per-nine rate during his time in the Carolina League. - Alex Skillin
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: We were optimistic about the 6-foot-4 lefty after our trip to spring training, having heard that he had not walked a batter at all in his starts in minor league camp. For a player whose main issue in 2013 was his 81 walks in 107 innings, this constituted a major development, as Kukuk's stuff had always been outstanding. Signs were encouraging in his brief return to the Drive—his 4.5 walks-per-nine were not great, but perhaps would be as good as we could reasonably hope for—the wheels came off again when he was promoted to Salem. When I saw Kukuk in August, he sat 91-93, but showed the ability to get it up as high as 96 when he needed to. His slider is a powerful, wipeout pitch, and his changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch; both sit in the low 80's.
Kukuk's control struggles largely stem from inconsistent mechanics that he struggles to maintain on a batter-to-batter or inning-to-inning basis. When he is at his best right now, as he did for a stretch this July when he won our Pitcher of the Month award, it is not so much that he does not lose his mechanics, but that he is able to fix issues quicker when he does lose them. At the start I caught in August, for example, Kukuk nearly exited in the first as he spotted Frederick a five-run lead, settled down in the second and third, then came apart again in the fourth. As friend-of-the-site Alex Speier of WEEI.com has aptly put it many times, Kukuk may have the biggest disparity between his ceiling and floor of any prospect in the system. If he is able to get his mechanics to a point that he can even quickly make adjustments when he loses them, he could be an impact, late-inning reliever in the majors. If he cannot, he may never make it to Portland. Kukuk is a near certainty to return to Salem to begin next year. - Chris Hatfield
#37: Jamie Callahan, SP
2014 Team: Greenville Drive
Final Stats: 108 2/3 IP, 3-13, 6.96 ERA, 137 H, 95 R/84 ER, 66 BB, 89 K, 1.868 WHIP
Season in Review: A second-round pick out of high school in 2012, Jamie Callahan impressed with Lowell as a teenager last season, striking out 54 batters in 59 2/3 innings. As a result, Callahan received his first full-season assignment with Greenville in 2014, but he did not find as much success in the South Atlantic League. The right-hander began the year well in April, racking up 11 strikeouts in his second start to set a Drive record, and allowing more than three earned runs just once in his first seven outings. The summer months did not go as well for Callahan, who struggled with control problems as the season wore on. In July and August, the South Carolina native walked 35 batters in 38 2/3 innings, while striking out only 30 during that span. These issues caused Callahan’s overall production with the Drive to suffer, leading to the final line you see above. - Alex Skillin
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: In his first foray into full-season ball, Callahan had his ups and downs, seeming to regress as the season went on before bouncing back during the Fall Instructional League. Callahan’s fastball worked in the 94-95 mph range early in the season, and the combination of that with his mid-70s curveball made for a solid two-pitch mix, especially given Callahan’s unique delivery, where he comes directly over the top almost like a pitching machine. However, as the season progressed, his velocity dropped and command and control regressed. His fastball was now working in the 90-92 mph range and he struggled with his secondaries. Callahan’s changeup is still a work in progress, and lags behind his other two pitches. When Fall Instructs hit, however, Callahan’s velocity bounced back and he looked more like his early-season self. Callahan almost doubled his previous career for innings this year, so one has to wonder if fatigue was a factor. Learning how to maintain his arsenal throughout a full outing—the proverbial pitching as opposed to throwing—is also a development point for the young right-hander. Regardless, long-term Callahan might be best suited for a bullpen role, so he only has to utilize a two-pitch mix and his fastball might play up more. Next year, he likely will begin the year back in Greenville with an eye towards a mid-season promotion to Salem. - Ian Cundall
Additional editorial support provided by Norm Cimon.